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Fall 2001 · Vol. 30 No. 2 · pp. 219–20 

Book Review


Waldemar Janzen. Believers Church Bible Commentary. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 2000. 496 pages.

Reviewed by David Janzen

While Waldemar Janzen has produced works directed at a scholarly audience, much of his publishing career has been devoted to synthesizing important scholarly opinions in theology, hermeneutics, and biblical scholarship and making them accessible and interesting to a wider audience. His essays in Still in the Image and his book on Old Testament ethics are two examples of the latter focus, and his new commentary on Exodus in the Believers Church Bible Commentary series is a third such work. {220}

In this commentary, Janzen is in dialogue not only with the more influential scholarly works in Exodus studies, but also with helpful current trends in biblical hermeneutics, specifically the kind of approach often called “canonical criticism,” and with current literary approaches. Janzen has helpfully applied such approaches in tandem with his own unique insights into the Exodus and its application to Christian life and theology, making it accessible to pastors and laypersons.

Janzen refers to his approach to the biblical text as “canonical-literary.” His main focus is not the long process of the composition and editing of the final biblical text, a common feature of older commentaries, but on locating a structure to the narrative of the entire story of Exodus. The macrostructure or narrative that Janzen identifies is one of anticipation and realization: the focus of Exodus on God’s salvation and commissioning of Moses in the first section of the book proves to be the prototype for the salvation and commissioning of Israel in the final thirty-three chapters. First Moses and then Israel are saved from a situation threatening death; first Moses and then Israel are commissioned into God’s service, Moses at the burning bush and Israel at Sinai.

Janzen’s structuring of the book in this fashion, avoiding the more common bifurcation of it into exodus and lawgiving, has the advantage of eliminating a common misconceived theological separation of grace and law (corresponding respectively to the exodus and Sinai event). Such a portrayal of the structure of Exodus also allows Janzen to integrate parts of the story of the book that many commentaries do not. For example, Janzen does not see the thirteen apparently tedious chapters on the construction of the tabernacle as superfluous to the main narrative, but points out how the story as a whole moves from Israel in slavery—building for Pharaoh, to Israel in divine commission—building for God.

Janzen’s care in showing how each section of Exodus can function in the present life of the church will prove most helpful for pastors and laypersons as they seek guidance in applying these texts to faithful Christian life. His insights in such applications are often more helpful than Janzen’s comments that place the various parts of the text in relation to other canonical literature, where the connections he makes in this regard are, at times, not entirely enlightening.

The commentary is scholarly sound, accessible, and theologically applicable to those of Anabaptist background.

David Janzen
Assistant Professor of Religion
Bluffton College, Bluffton, Ohio

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